Who should be licensed to use the road?

I’ve seen a number of interesting things in relation to road safety lately, some of which have caused me to revise my thoughts.

First, there’s the question of retesting for older drivers. This seemed self-evidently desirable to me, based on data showing very high fatality rates per km driven and that in most collision involving older (75+) drivers they are at fault. However, a Twitter discussion (must work out how to do Storify!) following this Background Briefing showed that things aren’t nearly so clear-cut. The fatality evidence isn’t really helpful, since it just reflects the fact that an accident is more likely to be fatal to an older person than to a younger one. The differential hazard is far greater for falls, which suggests that forcing older people out of cars may not be beneficial. And overall, the evidence on the benefits of testing appears to be mixed at best (the Monash expert quoted in BB overstates the case a bit, in my view).

More directly relevant to me (at least for the next decade or two) there are some suggestions regarding cyclist: a one-meter clearance requirement for cars , relaxation of abolition of helmet laws and requirements for licensing, rego and third-party insurance. The first is obviously sensible, the big issue being enforcement. On the third, I agree in principle with licensing and TPI, the main problem being what to do about children. Registration seems undesirable until we have a proper system of road pricing.

On helmets, I’m genuinely ambivalent, particularly after witnessing a head impact accident this morning (no injury, thanks to helmet). I would always use a helmet, but I’m not happy about the claim that Australia should have different helmet laws than Europe because our roads are more dangerous, and our drivers more aggressive. Granted that this is true we need to change these conditions. The obvious first step would be to reduce the current 60/50 speed limits for suburban streets and subarterial roads respectively to 50/40. This would greatly benefit road users (including both cyclists and older drivers) who can’t or don’t want to travel at or near existing speed limits. The welfare cost of slightly lower limits would, in my view, be trivial. I have zero sympathy for those (echoing smokers and polluters of all kinds) who want their convenience to justify imposing risks on others.

The other point though relates to those aggressive drivers. Whereas the evidence on older drivers is weak, there is ample evidence that aggressive driving, manifested particularly in traffic violations, is associated with higher crash risk, as is at-fault involvement in a previous crash. The current points system is absurdly lenient in this respect. The 12 point allowance lets drivers be convicted over a serious offence (running stop lights, speeding in a school zone etc) every year without any restriction on driving, and the suspension period for violators is only few months. I’d suggest a lifetime allowance of 24 points, with permanent restrictions thereafter, as well as reducing the three year allowance to 8 points, and increasing suspension periods.

The restrictive treatment of drivers at the older and younger ends of the age spectrum contrasts sharply with the treatment of a drivers license as a natural right for the 25-75 group, to be withdrawn only in extreme cases. In my view, aggressive drivers should be taken off the road to make them safer for the rest of us, including non-motorists and those whose reflexes aren’t sharp enough to cope with the high-speed high-risk driving of others.

101 thoughts on “Who should be licensed to use the road?

  1. Categories 1 and 2, to the extent that those categories are meaningful can be found intermixed on the bike paths around Canberra – i.e.. categories don’t mean much. You can’t tell about behaviour towards pedestrians with whom they share the pats from their outfits

  2. I’ve seen cyclists do some stupid things, some of them old enough to know better. Generally though, I’d say that the most important thing is whether an individual, whether driving a car or riding a bike, is capable of following the road rules, obeying the law, and being reasonable in their treatment of other road-users’ rights, including their right to a decent safety buffer in front of them when travelling at speed. Stealing the space in front of rapidly moving traffic is just wrong on so many levels…

  3. @Sam

    Lycra people are very particular about rigidly adhering to rules for the sake of rules, but show no actual courtesy towards other road users, or any interest in genuinely contributing to road safety.

    Like I said, irrational prejudice. 😉

  4. The biggest hazard I face on bike paths is pedestrians who wear headphones and can’t hear my bell, stare at their iPhones and meander randomly, and change direction suddenly without checking behind themselves. Still, I make an effort not to collide with them. When I ride in a marked bike lane on the road, most drivers are courteous and careful, and they pay attention to other road users.

  5. I’m both sorts of cyclist. Sometimes lycra clad in a bunch going as fast as possible, and sometimes a slow commuter. And sometimes a fast commuter. I cycled to school, to uni, to work, and round the Swan River and up in the Perth Hills for fun.

    As a cyclist, I choose my roads. Great Eastern Highway was a definite no-no before it was upgraded. Most of the time Canning Hwy is out of the question, but Stirling Hwy is not so bad. The cycle paths from Cottesloe to the city are great, as is the cycle path heading out along the Midland train line.

    But right now there are so many cyclists in Perth that the most dangerous place is the cycle path from the Narrows Bridge to Canning Bridge around 7am. Most bikes are heading into the city, and they’ll often be overtaking. If you are heading away from the city, you take your life in your hands. For this section of path, a dual carriageway with a median strip is needed.

    Bicycles used to be pretty rare on cycle paths, but I’ve learned that I now have to give hand signals when turning, and be very careful around blind corners. It wasn’t necessary 20 years ago, because there were so few bikes. If cycle volumes increase even more, then rules may have to be enforced. However there is something self regulating about bike riding – when you do it wrong, you get hurt.

    And don’t generalise about cyclists. We come in all types, just like car drivers. There are dickheads among us, but most of us just want to live and let live.

  6. Having ridden in Sydney traffic for over 20 years I have many thoughts on this interesting discussion. The one that always riles me is the argument that cyclists should pay a registration because drivers pay for the roads with their taxes. This is wrong to the tune of $17 billion in the other direction. In fact the first tared roads in the UK were introduced after lobbying by cyclist groups. I have lived in Tokyo where the registration system works well, but that is Tokyo where other things work well that we can’t understand because we don’t adhere to the system the way they do.

    IMHO, many of the problems of this world are related to the excessive use of private cars. They are a massive false economy.

    I agree with the comments that in 50 years people will look back and say, “what? you drove yourself around? how primitive!”

    “the open sewers of our time”. I will remember that one!

  7. @Tim Macknay
    Not at all irrational, and I certainly never pre-judged anyone. To the contrary, I started out enthusiastic about the lycra phenomenon, reasoning that the more general interest in cycling there was, the better. I have only come to dislike them after seeing them in action over many years.

    I’ll give you just two examples. They’re very particular about never going through red lights, even when the way is obviously clear of traffic. There’s no safety benefit to this; once you’ve determined that there is absolutely no danger (and no cops), the rational thing to do is to proceed cautiously through. It’s an unwritten rule followed by almost all commuters. Nothing so exemplifies the intellectual bankruptcy of rules-based utilitarianism than a self-important overweight middle aged man waiting for the lights to change on a deserted midnight street.

    On the other hand, lycra people generally make no attempt to stick to the left near the gutter. They take up a whole lane, forcing cars to go around or stick behind them at 35km/h. Granted it’s their legal right to do this, but it’s dangerous and/or annoying for drivers.

    If they showed less slavish formal care for rules, and more common sense and genuine regard for other people, their reputation might improve.

  8. I like the “progressive” approach of Finland, higher fines for higher incomes. Though this depends on good information and might not be worthwhile in Australia.

    Two sets of people who should not have licences are those who corruptly purchase and those who corruptly sell licenses. It is reported as being quite common in South Australia and I do not have confidence (on zero knowledge admittedly) that it is uncommon elsewhere in Australia.

  9. @Sam

    Again, Sam, not all lycra cyclists are the same. Our group generally ride 2 abreast, but we call “car” and go single file when a car approaches from behind. Unless there are 2 lanes, in which case the car can just take the other lane.

    And we might stick closer to the edge of the road if it wasn’t the worst bit, where all the broken glass lives, and tree roots make dangerous bumps. One of our crew who made a habit of riding close to the curb in the end came a cropper and badly damaged his shoulder after he hit some debris. Its safer to sit out a bit wider.

  10. I find it interesting that some of the strongest opinions on “how cyclists should behave” come from people who claim to know nothing about the style of cycling they’re opining about.

    Feminists call this “mansplaining”, since when they encounter it it’s usually a man explaining how feminism should work for his convenience. As a rule, if you have someone who’s been doing something for 10 years, it’s likely that your thoughts on first encountering that activity are less informed.

    The “take the lane” question is one I encounter twice every day. I cross the Cooks River at Wardell Road, on a bridge just barely wide enough to count as two lanes. If I crawl along the extreme left of my lane almost every time at least one motorist squeezes past despite the double white lines. And they know, and I know, that if there is an oncoming car, they will jump back into “my” lane and apologise for any injury later. So there’s really no risk… to them. If, instead, I take the lane, very few motorists will try to pass. They may, and some do, sit a metre behind me leaning on the horn and screaming abuse, but they will only pass if they can see a clear space. And on that bridge, they can’t until nearly the end.

    So, people with opinions, am I wrong to take the lane? Should I instead be required to suffer serious injury for the momentary convenience of one or two motorists? Your call.

  11. @Moz of Yarramulla
    If this was directed at me, it was certainly misdirected. I have been riding a bike for the last 25 of my 30 years, almost every day on busy roads, and I currently own the exact style of road bike used by the “lycra people” I am complaining about.

    @John Brookes
    My point is not that one should never “take the lane.” Sometimes doing so is the safest and best option. It’s a case by case thing, but a person who does it all the time even when the left side of the road is fine, is being annoying.

  12. I used to cycle along several stretches of road at close to car speed—car speed would have been above the actual speed limit—and my favourite near miss occurred on such an occasion. A lady was determined to overtake me. I was in the left side, i.e. almost in the gutter, of the left lane, and she sped up to overtake me in the same lane. Because of my speed, it took her quite a while to get past, which in itself was no concern to me: car drivers overtake me all the time.

    Once she got past me, however, she then flicks on the rear indicator for a left turn as she hits the brakes in order to pull into a small shopping centre’s car park entrance. As soon as she overtook me, I saw the indicator and hit the skids; I actually ended up having to put my hand on her car and to enter the carpark with her, barely avoiding a nasty collision. Of course, I was the one who copped the abuse.

    What on Earth is going through the mind of someone who feels it necessary to overtake a cyclist just before pulling into a shopping centre anyway? Lack of thought? Lack of awareness at how fast a bike can move on a good stretch of road? What was wrong with just slowing down behind me by a few kilometres per hour, then leisurely slowing and turning into the carpark? Before someone berates me for riding at speed, I’ll point out it was (legal and) safe—until the driver in the same lane created the danger out of thin air.

  13. @Moz.
    No you are not wrong to take the lane. I cycle every day, unless there is a monsoon trough or cyclone alert going down. I prefer and choose the road over the bike path every time, for me it is safer given that I prefer to ride at speed, from 25 to 50 kph. A decent bike, well maintained with good brakes, the right hi vis gear and a helmet is a neccessity.

  14. Martin W :@Moz.No you are not wrong to take the lane. I cycle every day, unless there is a monsoon trough or cyclone alert going down. I prefer and choose the road over the bike path every time, for me it is safer given that I prefer to ride at speed, from 25 to 50 kph. A decent bike, well maintained with good brakes, the right hi vis gear and a helmet is a neccessity.

    you can be in the right but one little mistake and it won’t make a blind bit of difference.

  15. irrational prdjudice?

    foul mouthed abuse from speedsters on public bike paths is a given.

    maybe it is just a few, who knows?

    being knocked off ones bike ( from behind in my case) and copping foul mouthed abuse is not as rare as one would think.

    maybe it is just a few, who knows?

    finding oneself in a line of crawling traffic (on a hill)behind a three abreast “peloton” ain’t
    just sour grapes from the envious.

    maybe it is just a few, who knows?

    ill feeling engendered will not be dispelled by PR or special pleading.
    maybe in their own interest, the ones who do not carry on as above let it be known that copping the flak is not on.
    and those who do carry on like that need to pull their head in.

    is that irrational?

  16. I ride everyday in Melb and drive about once a week . Most cyclists pay rego on a car or two. I dont always follow the road rules when I ride .I find it hard not to cheat knowing that a large proportion of car (and especially truck) drivers think bikes shouldnt be allowed on the road and treat me accordingly. Its hard to give respect when you dont get much. My life is at risk -their car only risks minor damage .If I dont take up a full lane thru a a narrow bit that is an invitation for someone to make a risky overtaking move -if I do take up the lane I feel like a nuisance.

    Car culture is a good metaphor for modern life – its independent and individualistic in a mass consumption sort of way, and, aggressive, selfish ,and impatient.

    I thought the roads were set up badly for bikes in Melb until I saw Sydney -its pathetic there. Lord Mayor Clover Moore talked of doing something about it and the next days front page was “Clovers War on Cars” -,ha ,ha .

  17. Moz, Donald, Megan…

    Some drivers, as Prof Q pointed out in the OP, simply should not be on the road. Short of Tim Macknay’s proposal (I’d go a Browning Hi-Power btw), the law should help to redress the imbalance of power by strict liability and reversed onus of proof provisions where a cyclist is injured or killed. The law recognises power imbalance in criminal cases, where it counts as circumstances of aggravation for sentencing, such as when a child or a frail person is violently assaulted by a fit adult.

    The recent Queensland case where a cyclist was killed by a cement truck driver – who then got off because the prosecution could not prove the (experienced) cyclist did not ride under his wheels – is a case in point. Reversed onus of proof and strict liability provisions would have seen the truck driver suitably punished and the grieving family compensated. The spot where the young man was killed is only 100m or so from an intersection where traffic invariably has to stop for a red light. There was no reason to overtake, other than to express contempt. As it is, the message from the legal system is that motorists can kill cyclists with impunity.

  18. Norway has the strictest drink driving laws in Europe.
    • The maximum blood alcohol content is equal to a small glass of a weak drink and heavy punishments with few second chances.
    • Driving under the influence of alcohol is punishable by at least 1 day in jail, a heavy fine and the loss of the driver’s license for a year.

    far fewer drink and drive in norway.

  19. @Sam
    Sam, I’ll give you a hint why it’s obviously irrational – your repeated use of variations of the pronoun “them”. The generalisation itself is irrational. Your personal irritation at some Lycra-clad cyclists who apparently stop at red lights is also irrational – I’d go so far as to call it ridiculous. Seriously – it pisses you off that people stop at red lights? Honestly, if something like that pisses you off, I’d gently suggest a program of meditation, or at least an anger management course.

  20. @may
    Classifying cyclists into two “types” and then attributing all manner of bad behaviour exclusively to one “type” is undoubtedly irrational. It requires selectively ignoring all bad behaviour from the preferred “type” and from other road or path users, and selectively ignoring all inoffensive, normal and courteous behaviour from the detested “type”. “Irrational prejudice” is perhaps the most succinct and accurate way to describe it. It’s the equivalent of assuming that all Aboriginal people are drunks.

  21. BTW jrkrideau and Hal9000, the (semi) joke about the Glock 9mm was Hermit’s, not mine. I just endorsed the sentiment.

  22. Tim Macknay :
    The generalisation itself is irrational…. Classifying cyclists into two “types” and then attributing all manner of bad behaviour exclusively to one “type” is undoubtedly irrational.

    I’ve often heard statements like this. I couldn’t disagree more. Generalisation is a wonderfully rational mental tendency. If group A tends to do action X more often than group B, there is probably some underlying cause which applies to A but not B. It doesn’t have to be total, but to outright ignore the frequency differences and actively discard data seems to me to be deeply irrational. It would be like saying that since alcoholics occur in both aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities to some extent, alcoholism is no more of a problem in one than the other.

    May and I aren’t saying every single Lycra cyclist is a terrible person (correct me if I’m wrong there May, I don’t want to put words in your mouth). We’re saying there’s a general tendency for Lycras to be more discourteous than others, and we’re saying our opinion is based on personal experience.

    As for the traffic light thing, you can’t take that one part of my comment in isolation. I was using that case to contrast another; Slavish obedience to a situationally irrelevant rule (and I’ll add a fair bit of personal abuse towards others who take a more acts-based utilitarian approach), vs standing on their legal rights in spite of the increased danger and annoyance.

  23. I have only one little suggestion for who should be licensed to use the road. It concerns motor cyclists. Their licence should prohibit the wearing of black or dark jackets and helmets and require them to wear a bright orange or yellow jackets and helmets. Bright colours would give car drivers a better chance of seeing a swerving motor cyclist in the rear vision mirror, particularly on a rainy day.

    And a suggestion for bicycle riders. Please do have a reflector at the rear of the vehicle when riding at dask or at night.

  24. @Tim Macknay

    There is an argument that ‘prejudices’ can actually be ‘rational’ or perhaps ‘effecient’ in terms of cognitive processing time and effort. And thinking apparently uses up lots of energy. So using prejudices as a heuristic is a quick and dirty way of assessing people on the basis of prior ‘knowledge’ that has created a ‘reputation’ for a particular group of people and so we can predict how they are likely to behave.

    I got over my irrational prejudice against lycra wearing cyclists before I even knew I was able to have one. When I was doing my PhD very early this century, we had a new post-doc come to our regional university from a very cosmopolitan part of the world and even way back then he wore lycra! He must have imported his gear because 10 years ago I’m sure no shop in town sold that sort of stuff.

    It was a shock for the traditionalists in the town. Good grief a man who rode a push bike right across the town and then carried his bike up to the 5th floor and then went running at lunch time! He even roller bladed to work a couple of times.

    I had never met anyone like him before – and he probably hadn’t met anyone like me either – but he turned out to be ok.

  25. The advent of driverless cars, regulated by an AI grid road traffic control, give this discussion of road civil rights & duties a naive & threadbare air.

    Pr Qs censorious authoritarianism (which I officially sympathise with although sneakingly despise) will be implemented by techno-instrumental, rather than socio-institutional, means. Robot cars are the ultimate in courteous drivers, respectful of authority and would never hurt a fly.

    Moreover the robotic suppression of human vehicular whimsically will occur long before another generation of nanny-statism can effect the necessary feminization of road cultural attitudes. So at least we will be spared an endless bout of finger-wagging by the kill-joys. not that joyfull killers deserve our sympathy.

    Although the coming of, what I call, “The End of Economics”* means that the notion of a daily commute to a “job”, whether by driven or driverless cars, also seems quaint and old-fashioned.

    * Paper delivered to Humanity+ Singularity Conference Bejing 27 July 2013

  26. This blog was reasonably thoughtful and scholarly until you pulled this crap out of nowhere: “60/50 speed limits for suburban streets and sub-arterial roads respectively to 50/40.” Where did this come from JQ? Why not 40/30, 30/20?? Please don’t tell me you are hostage to this odious “target zero” nonsense.

    Every single day, thousands of us get in cars, voluntarily and rationally risking our own lives because we value the convenience higher than the small risk of death. I vote for higher speed limits. It is not a moral issue. It is a trade off. But JQ has “zero tolerance” for this.

  27. @Moz of Yarramulla

    I heartily agree. There are times that cyclists need to take the decisions out of motorists hands. I do that in roundabouts. The key is being decisive. Some drivers might not like it, but its just better to force them to do the sensible thing. But you need to be assertive. Indicate that you are pulling out, and do it.

    A funny thing I’ve noticed about drivers is that if you turn your head and look at them when they are behind you, their behaviour suddenly changes. As if seeing your face makes them suddenly realise that you are human.

    @Donald Oats

    There is a class of drivers who believe that they must overtake cyclists, no matter what the circumstances. However I’ve gotten so used to the “pass and then turn left” that it hardly registers when I suddenly find myself taking an enforced left turn. Mind you, probably not at the speed you were doing!

  28. @Chris Lloyd

    John Brookes is rioght when he says:

    It’s a trade off. But in any trade off you decide where you draw the line. JQ just wants it drawn in a different place to you. That doesn’t make him wrong.

    Your attempt to defeat his claim through invocation of reductio ad absurdum was silly.

    Personally, if I could have in-vehicle monitoring and communication (see above) I’d be happy with variable speed limits so that on a fine day on the motorway in light traffic with a vehicle being driven by someone with an excellent driving record (near perfect or perfect compliance) there might be no speed limit at all — or perhaps one of about 160km/h (with the proviso that if you are involved in a collision regardless of fault you lose the privilege).

    In some conditions I’d lower the speed limit to 50km/h where it is 60km/h or even 80km/h but really, IMO, the general speed limits as they stand are a function of the inability to secure compliance and thus to pick a happy medium that seems reasonable to most and yet minimises risk. Some drivers need lower speed limits (we already do this with provisional drivers) . There are some drivers who should not be permitted to drive over 60km/h in any conditions. This latter is one of the range of lesser sanctions than suspension/DQ that we could consider in cases where people had shown low level non-compliance — (e.g. being warned but not infringed for going over the speed limit 3 times in a year) or for being infringed and losing more than half of one’s points but not all of them.

  29. Every single day, thousands of us get in cars, voluntarily and rationally risking our own lives because we value the convenience higher than the small risk of death.

    That’s not how it works. People do what is normalised and permissible. The bulk of normal human activity arises from habits. Then they make up hubristic stories about rational choices. People don’t do a cost benefit calculation. The psychological evidence suggest that people don’t and couldn’t make a reliable calculation like this.

    There are big differences in the road habits between individuals. I’ve noticed big differences between inner and outer areas of Australian cities and big differences between cities. There are massive differences between countries. If the law changes a chunk of the population will whinge about it but people adjust and a new normality evolves. People are wired to notice the impact of change more absolute effects and to notice the immediate impacts on themselves more than the effect on general welfare.

    Reduced travel time is a great reason for higher speed limits. Death, injury and associated costs are great reasons for lower speed limits. It would be smarter to do a real analysis of these effects across the population rather than rely on individual intuitions of risk calculations.

  30. @Chris Lloyd
    How about a trade off like this – you can go as fast as you want on a motorbike, sans helmet and protective leathers – and if you crash you can take care of yourself without the help of paramedics. That way you can take a bit more the responsibility for your behaviour. The problem with cars is the risk and the other externalities are placed on other road users.
    Or perhaps you can buy your own race track and drive as fast as you want.

  31. @Chris Lloyd
    The trade-off also involves the risk you pose to other road users, whenever you go for a drive. That includes pedestrians and people crossing the road, cyclists, scooter riders, and right up to articulated semi-trailers.

    We know the physics of an impact upon someone else, given their general category (i.e. pedestrian, car driver, truck driver), more or less, and from that, we can establish likely damage and injury from a variety of collisions at given speeds. From that, and from knowledge of basic reaction times, a reasonable guess at a safe speed limit can be made. Near schools and areas where children are present in an exuberant abundance, it makes sense to have relatively low speed limits.

    Personal freedom trades off against your responsibility for others, as is always the case in a fair society. Personally, I’ve always viewed driving as a privilege rather than as a right.

  32. @Donald Oats

    Personal freedom trades off against your responsibility for others, as is always the case in a fair society. Personally, I’ve always viewed driving as a privilege rather than as a right.

    Exactly. Hardly anyone who gets into a car reckons seriously with the prospect of having a collision, much less injuring anyone. Those who do have been surprised and I don’t doubt their regret, but it would be far better if they could bring that sentiment to their driving practice before they harmed others rather than seeing driving as some sort of expression of their identity — and thus a kind of human right.

    If you want to do that sort of driving, get trained and hire a space on a suitable race track where you can express yourself in concert with others of similar disposition who are willing to take the risks you are taking. At least in such circumstances, all the traffic will be heading in the same direction and there should be an absence of pedestrians, cyclists and non-car-related debris on the road. You can hope that everyone will be sober, skilled, and wearing apt safety equipment.

  33. Economics treats the decision to drive and cause congestion as a classic case of market failure, where the marginal driver fails to consider adequately the impact of their driving on congestion for everyone else. It is a fair bet they equally fail to give adequate weight to the risk they pose to others.

    I think this logic can even be applied to car type purchase choice. Some cars, notably large heavy 4WDs, do far more damage to other vehicles than average sedans, or even large sedans. Their “aggressivity” in terms of risk of injuring others, is rated at more than 50% worse than for light vehicles. They are the weapon of choice if you want to kill your fellow motorist. See Ch 5.2 of http://www.monash.edu.au/miri/research/reports/muarc222.pdf

    As for cyclists, another reason for different safety outcomes lies in the nature of the infrastructure. I do not assume that Danish or Dutch motorists are any more caring than we are, but the physical separation of Dutch and Danish roads from cycle paths gives their motorists little opportunity to kill their cyclists. So cycling there is much safer. No wonder they are less worried about helmet laws. No wonder so many more people cycle there. It is safe and easy.

  34. @Socrates

    One might also add that those large 4WDs and “people movers” are also much better at obscuring the vision of drivers immediately adjacent to them. The driver of said vehicle may see more, but that’s at the expense of everyone near them making critical judgements about how to drive. In effect, they demand proportionally more road space than that implied by the dimensions/mass of the vehicle.

  35. I’ve missed this discussion because I’ve been away on a cycling trip!

    One point that needs to be made about the one-metre rule is that in Queensland the government prohibits cycling on the very roads where this rule is most easily implemented, most notable the Bruce Highway between Bald Hills and Cooroy, where the alternatives are all roads on which the one-metre rule can’t practicably be observed.

  36. Donald @ 32. Regarding your argument about pedestrians and physics, I am reminded of a Vicroads advert where we see a pedestrian steps in front of a vehicle at 60km and gets creamed. They then rewind and she gets hit a 55km and is hardly hurt. The message for me was: why the hell doesn’t this idiot woman look before she steps in front of me? Do I really have to drive at a snail’s pace because some suicidal maniac might throw herself in front of me? Don’t cars have right of way on streets? If the car were driving on the footpath that would be another matter.

    and you also say “Personal freedom trades off against your responsibility for others”. This is pretty trite. What speed limit does it imply? And your comment led Fran onto a tangent about speed racing. Who is absurdly reducting now Fran?

  37. As for registration for cyclists, if registration charges were:

    (a) set at a level commensurate with recovering the marginal costs of provision of cycling facilities, the impacts of cycling on road wear and tear, etc.; and

    (b) calibrated to factor in the positive externalities of cycling;

    we would almost certainly find the road and transport authorities paying money to cyclists rather than the other way around.

  38. Glad to see a thread develop from my earlier comment, even though not a single commenter here seems to worry about speed limit deflation.

    John and Fran. I was saying that JQ provided no evidence for a reduction in speed limits to 50/40 and that it did not follow from previous arguments. None of the other commenters (Michael,Don) have presented evidence that limits should be lowered. They have just pointed out some of the well known costs of faster driving. Absent a quantitative analysis of the delicate trade-offs involved in their arguments, I think I am justified in reductio absurdum.

    In the past, traffic planners optimised journey times with death risk being a constraint. Have a look at the Vicroads website. The Target Zero philosophy makes the objective of road management zero deaths. This again justified reductio absurdum.

  39. Jim @ 30:

    If the law changes a chunk of the population will whinge about it but people adjust and a new normality evolves.

    This sounds straight out of Orwell. Well this slowly boiling frog notices the impost, every time I hit a ridiculous 70km speed limit on an open country road and know there could be a radar being the next bush.

    Since the post was largely about cycling which is a city activity, commenters have ignored country speed limits which are systematically reducing. All Victorian 90km and 70km limits will, in the next two years, change to 80km and 60km. There is much less chance of injuring others on a country road. Most accidents are single vehicle. Any quantitative assessment of the tradeoff would imply much higher limits in the country than currently pertain.

  40. @Chris Lloyd
    The death/serious injury statistics for pedestrians and cyclists show a curve where at 60km/h death or serious injury is almost certain and at 20km/h the likelihood is very low. A 30km/h limit on roads where there are a significant number of cyclists would see motor vehicles and bicycles travelling at the same speed and would more than halve the likelihood of death/serious injury over the 40km/h limit now in force around schools and in the Brisbane CBD. I haven’t got the time to do the research again, but I teach a course where the students had to do an assignment on this issue about 3 years ago. The statistics were unequivocal – there is a significant drop in deaths/serious injuries between 60km/h and 50km/h, a large drop between 50km/h and 40km/h to the point where the likelihood of death/serious injury is merely 50/50, and a huge drop between 40km/h and 30km/h. This is all well known to governments. Those actually concerned about reducing pedestrian and cyclist deaths, such as many in Europe, have acted appropriately.

  41. @Chris Lloyd
    I would agree with you on the means of conveying the message about the potential damage of an impact as rather ill-conceived, for the reason you mention. On the other hand, the sword cuts both ways: what is the upper limit speed at which drivers should be allowed to drive along busy areas of town, areas with a lot of different kinds of road users, including people needing to cross over? 10kph? 40kph? 60kph? 100kph? 200kph? 300kph? 0.999c?

    As others have said, we might all have different ideas as to what is a good trade-off, but that doesn’t mean we should throw our hands up and say ditch speed limits entirely. Besides, in answer to your question as to how to figure out a reasonable speed limit, I have already provided in my previous response a list of factors that should be taken into account, and you simply reiterate the question. If you want me to give you a mathematical algorithm which gives an unambiguous and optimal answer, well that is both risible and impossible. You highlight that speed limits have decreased in some areas: perhaps that is because of updated knowledge on one or more factors that need to be taken into account; I don’t personally know the answer one way or the other on that. You bring up country driving, in your response (to my response), but I wasn’t addressing that in the first place.

    Still, if you have a better idea on how to deal with the issue of setting speed limits, perhaps how to avoid the need for speed limits altogether, then I’m listening.

  42. @Chris Lloyd

    That is wrong about driving in the country. There just are not that many police people out here in the country and everyone knows where they park the van.

    Just drive past the police station and see if the 2 cars are there and then no worries. Although in some rural areas you need to watch out for cows but where I live the farmers are very responsible and keep their cows under control and so are we non-farmers. We let somebody know when a cow is on the road.

    But as we become more citified, with more people moving out here, the cyclists have become more numerous and the roads just do not accommodate the 1 metre rule. If one comes up behind a cyclist on a part of the road where there is only bitumen wide enough for a car, one just has to brake and slow down behind the cyclist. I really worry for them; it looks so dangerous.

    And about pedestrians; there are silly old people who somehow need to be protected from their lack of awareness of the danger of the road. I do know someone who killed an old man who just stepped out in front of him. No fault on his part but still he would have preferred to have been driving more slowly and not have had to deal with the – irrational for sure – guilt and grief he felt.

  43. @Chris Lloyd

    This sounds straight out of Orwell.

    Perhaps it might sound Orwellian but that’s how things work to a large degree. Social norms make the world intelligible and workable. Choose your own speed limit is gone. At one time drunk driving was the norm. At one time driving without seat belts was the norm. At one time public executions were normal. Things change, positively and negatively, and people’s ideas of what is normal change. Acceptable levels of road trauma are quite different in different countries, as are attitudes to enforcement. (The past is a strange country.)

    Well this slowly boiling frog notices the impost, every time I hit a ridiculous 70km speed limit on an open country road and know there could be a radar being the next bush.

    Your open country road might be someone else’s township. They might not want to dice with death coming out their front drive. By historical accident, a lot of people find they live on what have become highways. I don’t think the road management authorities actually place 70 kph zones randomly.

    I’m in fully favour of analysis and rational choices but I doubt the destination-focussed driver is actually making a full appraisal that takes all risks, costs and stakeholders into account. They just want to get there. Road death and debilitating trauma have significant social and financial costs. Try six months in a rehab ward – either as a client or a provider – and your weightings might change.

    My recommendation would be to use your car’s cruise control: less stress, less fines. Less angst about road authorities. It worked for me.

  44. What about skateboarders on busy inner city streets weaving between buses? Especially those listening to iPods!

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